Articles

Tricking Out the Mail

We’re back with more inspirational material to help you innovate with live events.

This is the seventh in an occasional series of essays. We hope it will spur a conversation between you and our past Localore producers. They’re ready to to help you “go outside” and tell stories in live spaces across America. We’ll have more news ahead about AIR’s #LocaloreLive! microgrants, which will support innovative approaches to creating new work in the “far corners” of local communities.

We’re proud to introduce you to Sophia Paliza-Carre:

Dímelo: Stories of the Southwest, AZPM in Tucson, Arizona

I am the creator of Dímelo: Stories Of the Southwest, a Localore: Finding America public-art storytelling project about life and culture. In envisioning and designing an unconventional approach to public media involving mailboxes installed at various locations across Tucson, I was inspired by artists like Candy Chang and her participatory public art series, “Before I Die”. I’m also convinced of the power of inviting people to tell their stories from my past work with The Moth. At each show, storytellers were center stage, but it was often the audience that kept us entertained.  While people performed they filled out slips with story prompts like “tell us about a time your signals got crossed.” The short answers felt like little windows into people’s stories – and they were surprisingly candid and emotional. That’s what led me to the idea of using mailboxes I toyed with the idea of a public bulletin board or wall but ultimately landed on mailboxes, which are inviting objects people instantly recognized and know what to do with. It helped that tricked-out mailboxes are also sort of a thing in the southwest.

It took a few months for me, my inside collaborator, Arizona Public Media’s (AZPM) Marianna Dale, and local artist Rudy Flores, to make four mailboxes.  Each was a themed, oversized, and created in collaboration with a local artist. One was portable 3D version of our logo made specifically for events. Another was in the shape of a cactus, the third neon themed, and the fourth made of chalkboard.  We played with making them interactive – you can change the neon lights or draw on the chalkboard. I paid Rudy a few thousand dollars for materials and his time. He works at an old-school sign shop and many of the materials were free or low-cost.

We placed the mailboxes at community gathering places: a library, a bar, a health clinic to specifically engage the latino community of Tucson, an often underrepresented group when it comes to AZPM.  Story prompts were posted on the mailboxes every few weeks, in both spanish and english, inviting people to submit personal stories. We wanted to shake things up a little bit. People were intrigued and reached out to us when they saw the boxes – they were a conversation starter.  In hindsight, we could have made them more portable, and replicable. The first mailboxes we created were meant to be very unique. If we’d built them faster and designed them simpler, we would have had more time to use them to engage more people!

Testing a live concept is key, and the nine months of our Localore project was basically the time it took to test just a few concepts.  The Localore assignment involved producing live events, creating radio stories, and embedding in the community, and so it was challenging to truly try different tactics thoroughly. I also suggest getting LOTS of feedback, including from your community partners or advisors (which I recommend you have!).

I continue to take ideas to the field like the mailboxes. At WNYC, where I now work, I spent nine months reporting about affordability issue across the city. Again, I was embedded in different neighborhoods, including in the Bronx and Staten Island.  Along with a small team including an editor and a reporter, we tried several ways to listen to and engage with the people who came forward. We used a payphone to solicit voicemails. I set up office hours at the local public libraries where I could work face to face with people I might not otherwise meet. It’s interesting to experiment with ways to invite people in to tell us their stories and give them space to let us know what they care about.

Sophia Paliza-Carre is a radio producer at WNYC. She is available to field questions, and you can reach her at spalizac@gmail.com.